Stay sharp over Christmas break

Dec 14, 2012 at 11:00 a.m. ET

During Christmas break, don’t let kids abandon all their study skills. Sneak in a few healthy habits and learn how to structure time for reading and educational play.

Over the holidays, the last thing kids want to do is study. Instead of structuring lessons, try these steps to keep kids sharp and ready to begin the New Year with success at school.

Limit television time

When kids are at home all day, it’s easy to let them bend the normal rules. Don’t let your kids vegetate in front of the TV too often during Christmas break. A few holiday programs and Christmas movies are fine, but nonstop TV marathons should be avoided. To avoid the temptation to let the television “babysit” while you’re busy with holiday preparations, have activities like puzzles and games ready for those inevitable cries of, “Mom, I’m bored!” Encourage your children to play outside. If your kids want to play video games, only allow games that get them moving and cooperating.

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Maintain a regular reading schedule

During the school year, your child should be reading every day. Try to maintain this habit as much as you can over the holiday break. On some evenings, things may be too busy for reading time, but you should avoid letting reading time slip away frequently. Make special time for reading Christmas books and encourage older kids to wind down with a book during the day. If you’re traveling, pack books for entertaining the kids in the car and while waiting around. Avoid the trap of spending too much time plugged in to tablets and portable gaming systems when you’re traveling and attending holiday parties.

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Use everyday math skills

Math is all around us. The holidays are a great time to stress the importance of math in everyday life. As you do your last-minute shopping and when you hit the mall to return things after the holidays, talk to your kids about budgeting and math as it relates to shopping. Let older kids help you calculate sales percentages and estimate tax. Let younger kids shop for gifts with a small budget. Even preschoolers can practice math skills by counting objects you see as you’re out and about. Remind kids that even in a time of smartphones, it’s important to be able to do arithmetic and basic estimates without the assistance of a computer.

Schedule play dates

Social skills are part of school success. Education can be as much about learning to work with other people as it is about basics like reading and math. Kids who are withdrawn and kids who struggle with behavior need peer interaction to stay in the swing of things. Schedule a few casual play dates during Christmas break. This will give your kids time to interact with friends amid the hectic schedule of holiday gatherings. They’ll benefit from unstructured play and the chance to catch up with friends. When traveling and attending holiday gatherings, keep in mind that kids need time to be kids. It’s fine to socialize with adults, but play time is important too.

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